Wheel alignment is the adjustment of a vehicle's wheels so that they travel straight and do not cause uneven wear. A vehicle's wheel alignment is adjusted per the manufacturer's specifications so that it handles as desired. According to David Crolla, author of "Automotive Engineering," through regular usage or after an accident, a vehicle's wheelbase may become misaligned and require a tuneup. By paying attention to how your vehicle handles, you can detect signs of bad wheel alignment.
According to Richard Stone and Jeffrey K. Ball, authors of "Automotive Engineering Fundamentals," pulling is the earliest and most common sign of bad wheel alignment. When you are driving down a straight and level road, your vehicle should drive straight without correction. If the vehicle turns slightly to either the right or the left, it is pulling. Pulling means that the wheels of the vehicle are misaligned and that you should take the car in for an alignment. The road can cause a slight pulling to either side as well; if the vehicle only pulls on one section of a road, the alignment is not likely an issue.
Uneven Tire Wear
The tires of your vehicle should wear evenly across the tread if the alignment is correct. However, if the wheels are misaligned, one side of the tire tread will wear more than the other. Uneven tire wear is often minute at the early stages of bad wheel alignment. To detect uneven tread wear, park the vehicle on a flat, paved surface with the wheels pointing straight forward. If the tread is visibly shorter on either the inner or the outer rim of the tire, uneven tread wear is present. Uneven wear is a serious indicator of bad alignment; if your vehicle exhibits this, it needs to be serviced.
Misaligned Steering Wheel
A vehicle's steering wheel should be level when the wheels are pointed straight. If the steering wheel is off-center, it could be a sign of bad wheel alignment. A vehicle's steering wheel should never tilt either counterclockwise or clockwise when the car is driving straight. If it does, the vehicle should be taken to a mechanic for servicing.